Rav Shraga Feivish Hager zt”l // The Kossover Rebbe zt’l

Boro Park and Monsey were transformed into a sea of grief as thousands of people mourned the petirah of the Kossover Rebbe, zt”l, Rav Shraga Feivish Hager, the fiery leader who had his hand in virtually every major local initiative. Twenty months ago, the Rebbe received a terminal diagnosis. Tragically, he passed away at midnight on leil Shabbos at the Cornell Medical Center. He was only 66 years old.
Wailing were heard during the brief hespedim for the Rebbe, who stepped abruptly into the spotlight 25 years ago when a group of chasidim discovered his fiery avodah and crowned him as their rebbe. That small cluster grew into a kehillah of hundreds, in the process turning the Rebbe into one of the unofficial leaders of Boro Park.
Today, there are Kossover shuls in Monsey, Lakewood, Yerushalayim and Tzfas, as well as the main one in Boro Park, where a long-awaited massive beis midrash is scheduled to open after the summer.


“Cry! Cry!” urged Rav Chaim Hager, the Zalshchiker Rebbe—the late Kossover Rebbe’s brother—in his hesped amid the sounds of people sobbing. “We have lost everything… I have long searched for his avonos and finally discovered them: He would sit and toil over a shvere Taz and close it to listen to a brokenhearted Yid. He would toil over a Tosafos but close it to give tzedakah to someone. These were his avonos.”
Members of the Kossover kehillah are shattered, having lost a rebbe who didn’t inherit a chasidus but built it from scratch. The fact that they are mere months away from a chanukas habayis on their new shul—the first Kossover beis midrash since the war—has only added to despair.
A descendant of several prominent dynasties, the Rebbe was a combination of the uncompromising avodah of Vizhnitz, the intricate Torah of Kossov, the royalty of Ruzhin and the fire of Sanz. He never wanted to be a manhig—he had to be virtually forced into adopting many of its trappings during his quarter-century of leadership—but once he did so, he never stopped demanding perfection from his ever-growing circle of chasidim.
“He encouraged us to be like Avraham Avinu,” said Sender Rapaport, one of the founding members of the kehillah. “We would remind him of the story of Rebbe Zusha of Anipoli, who said that when he got up to Shamayim, he wasn’t going to be asked why he wasn’t like the Mezritcher Maggid but why he wasn’t Reb Zisha, but he didn’t buy it. He demanded that we work hard and become like Avraham Avinu.”
The Rebbe had a tendency to become entranced while learning or performing mitzvos, emerging minutes later to speak normally to his chasidim with his trademark humor and down-to-earth advice. “If Hashem had an ohel,” he would say, “everyone would come running to daven there. So why should Hashem be any less to us because He doesn’t?”
The Rebbe was also a dayan of the Vizhnitzer kehillah of Monsey in Boro Park and the nasi of several mosdos and organizations, including Chesed Shel Emes and the Bnos Chaya girls’ school, and he was the driving force behind Jnet, the first kosher Internet filtering system.
Born in 1956 in Boro Park, the Rebbe’s parents were Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heschel and Rebbetzin Malka Hager. His father was a scion of Vizhnitz, the son of Rav Shraga Feivish, who was the son of the Imrei Boruch of Vizhnitz and the brother of the Ahavas Yisrael. In fact, the Rebbe was of the same generation as the late Vizhnitzer rebbes—his own rebbe, the Yeshuos Moshe, and the Toras Mordechai—although his age was closer to that of their children, the current Vizhnitzer rebbes.
After the Holocaust, there were no male survivors to perpetuate the dynasty of Kossov, one of the oldest chasidic courts going back to Rav Yaakov Koppel Chasid, a talmid of the Baal Shem Tov. The Imrei Chaim of Vizhnitz therefore asked his younger cousin to preserve it by becoming a rebbe. “Don’t allow Hitler to have the final say,” he was urged by others.
It was through Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heschel’s mother, a daughter of Rav Moshe Hager, the Leket Oni of Kossov, that the Rebbe was a Kossover einikel. The Leket Oni was a son of Rav Yaakov Shimshon, a son of the Toras Chaim, who was a son of the Ahavas Shalom, the first Kossover Rebbe, who was a son of Rav Yaakov Koppel Chasid.

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